James Lichtenstein, also known as barney13 on Reddit, received a touching surprise from his Android device on Thursday. When he decided to take a trip down memory lane and look at some old photos, he used Google Now voice commands to do so. When he asked to see his photos from Nice, France, the place where his father had died, Google Now took it upon itself to read a snippet of an old email received shortly after the fact. The email expressed condolences for the death of his father. In essence, Google Now had figured out that it was about to show some photos that could elicit an emotional response and decided to preface that interaction by offering condolences in a very Google-y way.
After this, Lichtenstein took to Reddit to express his amazement at Google Now’s knowledge and, in a strange and rudimentary sense, understanding. He said of the event, “Mind. Blown. I’m sad, I’m amazed, I’m taken back. What a lovely moment for some automated robot voice to express it’s sympathy to me.” For all intents and purposes, this seems to be a demonstration of machine learning, neural networking and advanced A.I. tricks in action. The chain of events seemed to point to Google Now scanning Lichtenstein’s emails through Gmail for any photos of or references to Nice, France, found out that his father died there, then stumbled upon an email offering condolences and thought it appropriate to show, given the circumstances.
To the uninitiated, it may seem like Google Now understood the concept of sympathy. While A.I. is not quite there yet, this event and things like AlphaGO and the complex algorithms behind such tech as personal assistants and targeted advertisements show just how advanced A.I. has become. This heartwarming incident is, for all intents and purposes, just the tip of the iceberg for Google Now as attempts are made at making it a bit more human, including a new voice and more natural language and flexibility in voice commands. The A.I. under the hood is, of course, also steadily improving with time, noting user demands and the subtleties thereof to better cater to them in the future. In essence, Google Now has begun to learn.